Pinterest Stumbleupon Whatsapp
Advertisement

Do you want to ruin the back-to-school experience? Buy a cheap laptop (or “netbook”). $100 laptops may cost little, but if they fail, kiss your essays and projects goodbye. You need performance, value, and – above all else – reliability.

So what should you avoid and what’s the cheapest laptop you should buy?

Where Are the Junk School Laptops and Why Should You Avoid Them?

Where Are the Junk School Laptops?

Most electronics dealers sell a few junk laptops. Sometimes, they’re cleverly placed in the impulse-buy section of your favorite brick-and-mortar. Other times, they show up in online and paper ads. The only universal rule is this: there’s never a demonstration unit on display because these things look like junk.

Some brands you might see (particularly at Walmart): Ematics, Vulcan, iRulu, iView, RCA, and NuVision. Most of these companies slap their name on a “white label” manufacturer’s product. More or less, they offer nearly identical electronics, differing only in warranty and marketing.

If you want to avoid buying from a white label company, here’s a handy tip: use a reverse image search Check Out Some More Uses Of A Reverse Image Search Using TinEye [Chrome] Check Out Some More Uses Of A Reverse Image Search Using TinEye [Chrome] Image recognition is getting better by the day. Perhaps, that’s why we keep talking about it so much. The reverse search engine that usually gets most of the clicks is TinEye. We didn’t miss out... Read More to find whether or not you’re buying a white label product. For those on mobile devices, reverse image searches Check Out Some More Uses Of A Reverse Image Search Using TinEye [Chrome] Check Out Some More Uses Of A Reverse Image Search Using TinEye [Chrome] Image recognition is getting better by the day. Perhaps, that’s why we keep talking about it so much. The reverse search engine that usually gets most of the clicks is TinEye. We didn’t miss out... Read More aren’t difficult.

Advertisement

Why Avoid Junk School Laptops?

According to SquareTrade, low-cost laptops (also known as “netbooks”) suffer from a 20% higher failure rate than larger devices. That’s mainly because, in order to hit a $100 price-point, the manufacturer had to trim off pretty much everything you would associate with a quality laptop.

The Three Kinds Junk Laptops to Avoid like the Plague

There are three kinds of school laptops that look good on paper but aren’t worth buying.

The Windows Walmart Cheapie

Walmart
Image Credit: wolterke via Depositphotos
  • Where is it? Many brick-and-mortars stock throw-away 2-in-1 laptops.
  • How much? Usually around $100-200.
  • Why avoid it? It’s not reliable, fast, or upgradeable. And their warranties are suspect.

Walmart leads all brick-and-mortar businesses in electronics sales, second only to Amazon. With such extraordinary volume, they are bound to sell some real stinkers. Enter the Walmart Cheapie. Great for travel. Terrible if you want a real laptop for school or work.

Here’s a good example: The $120 Epik TEQNIO, a 12.5-inch (or 14-inch, depending on the model) laptop. On paper, it looks good. The TEQNIO comes with Windows 10, a high definition screen, and more. Its Intel “Atom” Z8300 processor should handle all productivity tasks without a sweat. So you’re probably asking yourself, what’s the issue?

Image Credit: Walmart

The problem is Windows 10. It needs lots of power.

Windows Needs Twice the Hardware

While the TEQNIO’s hardware would make a Chromebook or Android device run smoothly, the same specs won’t adequately run Windows. Worst of all, the big performance problems won’t show up until months after you’ve purchased the device.

Even upgrading Windows 10 (install the Creator’s Update The Complete Windows 10 Creators Update Troubleshooting Guide The Complete Windows 10 Creators Update Troubleshooting Guide If you've been affected by a Windows 10 Creators Update bug, you have just found the right place to look for fixes. We've investigated the most common problems and have found solutions. Read More ) is problematic on a 32 GB drive — and often times the limited room can make an upgrade difficult or impossible.

Even worse, if all fails, Epik’s suspect warranty policy is all you have to rely on. Here’s a dissatisfied customer from Amazon:

Epik Learning Company (as of August 25, 2017) did not return a request for comment. It seems that their email address is entirely abandoned.

While a factory reset 4 Ways to Reset Windows 10 and Reinstall From Scratch 4 Ways to Reset Windows 10 and Reinstall From Scratch Windows 10 is still Windows, meaning it will need a fresh start every once in a while. We show you how you can get a fresh Windows 10 installation with as little effort as possible. Read More can restore the device to a like-new condition, a Windows device with less than 4 GB RAM and 64 GB of storage will suffer from reliability problems throughout its short life. And almost all no-brand Windows devices come with less than 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. You can do better.

The Refurbished Junker

  • Where is it? Some brick-and-mortar businesses stock “refurb” models. More often, you see them sold online — Tanga, for example.
  • How much? The price varies, but the cheapest (and most worthless) sell for less than $300. The cheaper the refurbished device is, the older it is — usually.
  • Why avoid it? For those who don’t know what they’re buying, a refurb isn’t the way to go.

Both Fry’s Electronics and Tanga sell overpriced (and underperforming) refurbished devices. Here’s an atrocious example, an HP EliteBook Folio from Tanga:

Image Credit: Tanga

On paper, the refurbished model looks amazing! It includes an Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 250 GB of storage for $186. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details.

What’s not mentioned is that it’s over 5-years old. Compounding problems, it comes with a 90-day warranty. Its 250 GB hard drive also has 5-years of wear-and-tear on it. You’d be lucky to get more than a couple years of use before something catastrophic happens.

While the refurbished model beats out the Android tablet and the Walmart cheapie, it’s still a poor choice.

The No-Name Android Tablet with a Stapled on Keyboard

  • Where is it? Many brick-and-mortar businesses stock throw-away 2-in-1 tablets with a keyboard.
  • How much? Usually around $50-120.
  • Why avoid it? It’s not reliable, fast, or upgradeable.

You often see these clunkers for sale on Amazon, Fry’s, and Walmart. Don’t get fooled, they’re great for disposable purposes, like travel, but awful for long-term use. Part of the reason is that they have awkward keyboards, weak hardware, and completely absent software updates. A great example, the Linsay 10.1-inch tablet:

Image Credit: Walmart

What makes the Linsay tablet so awful is its age. Its operating system, Android 4.4, released over four years Android KitKat? Give Me A Break! Android KitKat? Give Me A Break! As unbelievable as it sounds, it's true -- the next version of Google Android's operating system is nicknamed KitKat. That's Nestle's KitKat. Surely it's receiving its fair share of mockery. Remember when Apple announced the... Read More ago. And every single security flaw that has been discovered in those years has gone unpatched.

On top of that, it’s only a matter of time before apps stop supporting Android 4.4. Perhaps in another few years, you won’t be able to install any applications on it.

What Cheap Laptop Do You Need?

While a lot of China-designed brands offer great specs and hardware, like Teclast and Chuwi, their warranties are often times equal to the 30-day return period. That’s not acceptable.

Chromebooks and Android tablets cost less than Windows. However, I must recommend that students use Windows because of its versatility. Students are best off with these two laptops: the newly announced Asus W202NA and the Dell 15 3000.

Dell 15 3000

Dell 15 3000: The Dell 15 3000, at roughly $225 via Dell.com with coupon code 10OFF, offers a complete laptop with standard internal components — with no touchscreen. It comes with Windows 10 Home, which means it can run the apps you need (and don’t need). Its 4 GB of RAM and standard storage drive make it a good deal for almost any student.

A key selling point of the Dell 15 is modularity. Its swappable storage technology allows for hardware upgrades and easier (but not guaranteed) data recovery.

Asus W202NA

The W202NA comes with a touchscreen, ruggedization, and a low price of $280. It also includes acceptable hardware for running Windows 10, including 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. Most important, the Asus W202NA uses the Windows 10 S (how to try Windows 10 S How to Try Windows 10 S for Free With No Risk How to Try Windows 10 S for Free With No Risk Windows 10 S is designed for educational use, and limits the apps you're allowed to run. If you'd like to try it out, you can use this method for a no-risk demo. Read More ) operating system, which installs all apps from the Microsoft App Store. In general, Windows 10 S devices offer better reliability and speed — at the cost of app selection — compared to Windows 10 Home devices.

I must note that the W202NA uses an eMMC NAND and eMMC: All You Need to Know About Flash Memory NAND and eMMC: All You Need to Know About Flash Memory The world would be a sad place without flash memory. But how much about flash memory do you really understand? Here are the essentials you should know to make informed buys! Read More module for storage. So, what does that mean? It’s not a modular system, which means there aren’t any hardware upgrades available and if it ever fails, data recovery may be impossible (or more expensive).

Unfortunately, the only retailer currently selling the 202NA is Walmart — for $70 above retail. The widespread availability of the W202NA should be any day now. I’ll include a sales link once it becomes available. A good alternative, though, is the $200 Lenovo Miix 320.

UPDATE: CDW also now carries it for around $290.

Make Use Of Your Student Discount

Many brick-and-mortar stores offer a student discount – all that’s required is a student email address, often times ending with EDU. Some of the big retailers include Microsoft, Best Buy, and more.

Also, keep in in mind that some credit cards offer extended warranties 4 Reasons to Always Put Tech Purchases on Your Credit Card 4 Reasons to Always Put Tech Purchases on Your Credit Card Racking up debt is never a good idea, but there are some great reasons to put all of your tech purchases on a credit card. Read More and other perks — like theft and accident protection.

Does anyone recommend any cheap student laptops?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Stew
    September 6, 2017 at 1:23 am

    Windows10s is a waste of time. We have seen this before with the dumbed down Windows 8 - now those devices are discontinued.
    Fact is the only reason why anyone should run windows, is so it acts like windows. So if you friends point you to an application you can install it and run it.

    I know Microsoft is really trying with this app store thing - but its been done to death, and people will eventually figure out that its easier to run Linux Mint and install whatever they want.

    Windows needs to make windows10 free and simply disable many of the startup items so that it runs on lower machines, anything else is just going to damage Microsofts reputation in the future. They need to complete their transition to "Apple like" to stay in both hardware and software. In a land of linux/android competitors.

    • Kannon Yamada
      September 6, 2017 at 1:42 am

      I agree with you that Windows RT was a disaster on par with the Titanic.

      Windows 10 S, however, seems to be a dramatic departure from RT in that it actually addresses a market need. Whereas RT was an attempt to capture the mobile and low-end market using ARM processors, Windows 10 S takes aim directly at Windows 10's greatest weakness: its openness to malware. Virtually everyone I've met who used Windows (who wasn't proficient with computers) had massive malware infections. And they were installing horrible software that they thought they needed to use the interwebs.

      10 S isn't for you and me. It's for people who can't be troubled to learn how to optimize their computer and just want a safe depository to get free or inexpensive software.

    • TPB
      September 6, 2017 at 7:28 am

      All of you just STOP with your damn Linux fantasies. The overwhelming majority of computer users have never even heard of it so they will NEVER be migrating to it. Never.

      And, no, there is no version of Linusx where people can "install whatever they want."

      I'm not knocking Linux, I'm not saying that it isn't better or as good Windows or Apple, I'm just saying it isn't going to become a significant sector of the market anytime soon.

      And for the most part, nearly everyone who comments on here or even looks at this website is NOT the typical low-level PC user.

      But, yeah, Windows 10S is crap. That Dell PC is way better than that ASUS recommendation, touch screen or not.

      • Kannon Yamada
        September 6, 2017 at 4:11 pm

        Perhaps this is stupid, but if Linux offered Android app compatibility the way Chromebooks do (native support), it could out-compete Windows as the OS of choice at the consumer level.

  2. Oron
    August 29, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    When it comes to reliability and particularly to data recovery, it has to be said loud and clear: use a backup drive!

    It doesn't matter whether you use a $100 mini laptop or a $1000 business machine, if your data is important, you need to back it up! For $50-60 you can get an external drive which will guarantee the safety of your data (if you use it, that is!) than the best laptop in the world. And of course, this is all the more true when applied to el-cheapo machines which are more likely to conk out.

    • Kannon Yamada
      August 30, 2017 at 6:47 pm

      Hi Oron! It's good hearing from you -- and thank you for the great comment!

      When time permits, I'll add a section regarding back up plans. IMO, using Google Drive or Office 360 to compose essays (or even the lamentable OneDrive) is a great means to keep one's documents safe. But nothing beats a physical image of an operating system or a complete backup of the computer. Thanks again!

  3. likefunbutnot
    August 28, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    I would absolutely trust a refurbished Thinkpad, Elitebook or Latitude new enough to have any Core i-series CPU over anything sold at retail for under $400.

    Why? Because they can be repaired and moreover, they were actually made to be serviced. Spare parts exist and they are inexpensive. A battery or a keyboard for a Thinkpad T420 only costs $25 and both represent a trivial repair for anyone confident enough to work a screwdriver. Those re-sold business machines will be better-constructed, they'll have more and more useful ports (ethernet, mSATA, VGA, possibly even Expresscard) or at least the ability to add them. It's also common practice for resellers to drop in modest SSDs on those old lease-returned business machines (the original drives are often not returned with the PC), and at least in the case of the business machines, you're highly likely to get a pretty decent i5 CPU that's probably 90% as fast as the newest models... all in a package that will sell for $100 - $200. If you're forced by financial constraints to look a a low-cost PC, those sorts of machines are really the best possible option.

    • Kannon Yamada
      August 28, 2017 at 7:03 pm

      Thanks for the comment!

      For experienced buyers, that's definitely true (and I pointed that out in the article). But for someone lacking that experience who is buying a refurb model with a 30 or 90-day warranty, it's a poor investment of money.

      I would also point out that business laptops can have a range of internal problems that you wouldn't see in a consumer model. People tend to treat their work laptop with less care than they might their personal laptop. That's not always true, but it's truer than not. Some of the Thinkpads that I used to refurbished had all kinds of signs of battle damage (I.E. pounding on the keyboard, literally). Or signs of legume addiction (one guy had been eating peanuts apparently directly over his keyboard for years).

    • Jay
      September 10, 2017 at 4:47 am

      I must of gotten super lucky, as I bought a refurbished Dell Inspiron 101Z with Win7 Home X64 off eBay for $180 3.5 years ago and have had ZERO issues with it. I only upgraded the RAM to 8GB, but really didn't need to. It came with a 1 year warranty and looked brand new. I've always bought Dell, as they've just worked over the years. Any no name brand or one without returns, STAY AWAY. Check the specs and make sure they'll meet your needs and then check the specs are correct when you get it and make sure your Windows version is legit. You have to your due dilligence when buying any PC, and of course always back up your data. A hard drive can last 5 days or 10 years, even when new. It's just a roll of the dice.